When did it become okay not to educate your kids?
This. I actually know something about this. This is a question asked by a commenter here.
Dave and I moved to Southern Pines, North Carolina in the early seventies. We rented a small house there, and in 1976, Nathan was born. But prior to Nathan’s birth, in part due to being away from family and friends and being a bit lonely, I started attending the church down the road. It was within walking distance of our house.
This is Calvary Memorial Church in Southern Pines. We refer to it fondly as the Fundy Church From Hell. We spent about 14 years there. It was all my fault, and I have apologized almost daily since leaving there.
Calvary, pastored at that time by a man named Kent Kelly, had a Christian school.
Kent was an odd duck, as fundamentalist pastors go. He was not the Joel Osteen type, by any means. Or the Jerry Falwell type. He was more moody than that, almost sullen. He wore crumpled corduroy jackets, the type with patches on the sleeves. Here he is all dressed up for a formal photo.
Kent was basically a tyrant. He ruled the church with an iron fist but we were all willing prisoners.
The church consumed our lives. Dave and I were down there nearly every single day for one thing or another. On Saturdays, there were work days. We were essentially Kent’s slave labor force. He would ride around on a tractor while the rest of us walked and did whatever he dictated should be done.
For a while, I used to go to the grocery store early on Saturday mornings to buy marked-down ground beef for work-day-lunch hamburgers. I’d get the biggest packages I could find, but I always had to buy one small package of ground round.
He had to have ground round for his hamburger, and he wouldn’t eat it if it had been frozen. The rest of us got marked-down plain ground beef.
You get the idea.
Kent Kelly had zero qualifications to be a pastor. He was just a guy who was a landscaper who started preaching. He had no seminary training, no college education, nothing.
The Christian school had a principal who actually had some education, which, looking back from where I sit now, was sort of amazing.
The school itself struggled with its teaching staff. My mother, who moved to teach in the school not long after we moved there, was teaching with only two years of college. She had to return to the local community college at one point to get some more hours of credit to meet state requirements. Kent told her she could take anything she liked, so she took a course in pottery-making.
The disdain for state oversight was palpable.
One day, in the late seventies (probably sometime in 1976 or 1977), Kent told us a story about how a Christian school in some mid-western state had been closed down by the state. The issue was state-regulation and the certification of teachers.
What Kent was proposing was to take the licensing documents that our Christian school had and put them in an envelope and send them back to the state licensing board. Only “God” could oversee the school, he said. Only the Bible should be the ruling document. Children were the property of their parents, given to them by “God,” and the state had no business telling parents how to educate their kids.
As he brought his tirade to a close, he said, “I will tell you all now. We’re going to send these documents back to the state, and if the state of North Carolina comes to this house of “God” to close it down, this pastor’s blood will be shed.”
I will never forget it. I remember the chill that went up my spine, and I knew that no matter what happened, I was going to stop my husband from being one of the men who stood at the door and met those state authorities. No matter what. I should have understood then that I didn’t really buy into all the bullshit.
However, Kent did his thing and embarked on a mini-career as a political activist and lobbyist. He was gone that year more than he was around. He would be home most of the time for Sunday church and then gone again.
If I am remembering correctly, he personally visited every Christian school in the state of North Carolina to get the pastor on board with his agenda, which was to challenge the Department of Non-public Education’s teacher certification requirements.
You have to understand his motives. He was, of course, a True Believer, but like all True Believers, there were underlying motives. The school and church paid abysmal salaries. Really low. Furthermore, they discriminated heavily between male and female employees, on the grounds that women didn’t need to support a family. In addition, all church and school employees were classified as “missionaries” so the church did not pay FICA taxes on any of them.
I have often wondered how some of those die-hard long-term employees are faring now. They were my peers, and thus are pretty much my age now, looking at retirement and social security. I do not know if they all panicked when they began to age and realized that they had no social security benefits in front of them and maybe they ran out and got real jobs for the requisite amount of time to qualify. Or if they are struggling. I don’t know.
At any rate, this low salary situation contributed to a real problem trying to find teachers. In addition, of course, Kent required every teacher to attend the church regularly, so there was a very limited pool of potential teachers in the first place. Having to meet state certification requirements just put another hurdle in his way, and he fought back.
He visited pastors, cajoled them, pleaded with them, and finally got a bunch on board. By the spring of 1978, the state had responded by filing suit against a group of Christian schools, Calvary among them.
The group hired an attorney named William Ball to represent them, and he chose Calvary as the school to appear in court representing all the others. There was a reason for this.
Most Christian schools during this period were pretty much “white-flight” schools. They were started as a reaction to busing and integration. Calvary was somewhat different. The church was white. I don’t remember ever seeing any non-white people in church. But the school was integrated, more so than the neighboring population. So William Ball wanted Calvary as the model school because he knew the prosecution could not bring up race as an issue.
At any rate, we went to court. The case was called the State of North Carolina v Columbus Christian Academy et al.
Et al means “all others similarly situated.” We were “similarly situated.” And it was our teachers who were put on the witness stand and our school that Ball used in his legal defense.
And I went to work doing legal research for Kent who was passing it all on to William Ball. I’d never done anything like that in my life, but I was available and willing and read fast, so I got the job, as a volunteer, naturally. Nathan, aged two, got free day care (he spent much of that time in his grandmother’s kindergarten class).
See those folks? Dave and I are someplace in that crowd.
I am so sorry, America. I was so wrong.
So there was a trial. The national media picked up the story, and one of the major networks interviewed Kent one night. I remember it well because we were the only people in the church who would admit to owning a television set. (Television was considered to be of the devil. Our position was that televisions have off buttons.) As a result, about 50 people packed into our small living room to watch Kent be on national television, while simultaneously criticizing us for owning the set.
Undaunted by the court decision (regardless of what that blurb says, my memory is that we lost in court, or maybe we thought we were going to lose), Kent decided that if the court said we had to obey the law, the best thing to do was change the law. That’s when he became a lobbyist. He spent much of the following 8 or 10 months at the legislative building in Raleigh.
We wrote massive numbers of letters. We’d have letter-writing evenings at the church, all seated in the dining room at long tables with lots of paper and pens and told exactly what to write. The letters were then gathered up and taken in boxes to Raleigh the following day. Thousands of letters.
One person who was doing lobbying at the capitol went down to the dining room for lunch and overheard two legislators talking about the bill that had been introduced (“our bill”). One said to the other, “I haven’t read the bill, and don’t really know what it’s about it, but I’m going to vote for anything that I get that many letters about.”
I remember that I knew that wasn’t right. Everyone was cheering, but I knew it was just plain wrong.
In the end, the bill passed. North Carolina went from being one of the most heavily-regulated states in the union in regard to non-public education to being one of the least-regulated states. To teach in a private school, you had to be a high-school graduate and 18 years old. Nothing more.
Kent got what he wanted and was all happy for a few years, until he had a series of brain stem strokes due to his extreme untreated hypertension (he didn’t trust doctors) coupled with his atrocious diet (all that ground round). He was left partially paralyzed, unable to preach, and a huge burden on his family. He lived that way for quite a few years until he finally died in 2008. He was my elder by six years.
And Calvary has had sub-standard teachers ever since. A long-time math teacher has no college education at all and is a graduate of Calvary Christian School. Nobody has to take pottery classes any more.
And that’s, of course, about private Christian schools, not home schools.
But Dave and I moved away in the mid-eighties and went to South Carolina, to a small town north of Greenville. We put Nathan in a local Christian school. The Greenville area, in part because of Bob Jones University, has a lot of home-schoolers. Many of them are people who would really like to have their children in Christian schools, but they cannot afford the tuition for their large families.
Unlike Calvary, which for all its faults was relatively egalitarian, the school in Greenville (Hampton Park Christian School) was elitist in many ways. We didn’t attend church there. I drove an old beat-up VW bug. Nathan watched little TV (in spite of our exposing him to the devilish thing from birth) and hence, didn’t know many of the references to sit-coms and stuff that the other kids made. Nathan was a nerd. He played piano very well. He couldn’t play sports to save his life.
We visited his teachers. We talked with the principal. We got nowhere. We gave up, and took him out of school. It was our only choice in that situation since we thought public school was satanic. So we joined the ranks of home-school families.
In South Carolina at that time (late eighties), a home-schooled child was considered to be a public school kid who was simply permitted to remain at home. The public schools were able to count home-schooled kids for federal aid purposes, at a lesser percent, and we had certain requirements. We had to fill out a calendar for the whole school year along with a list of all the books and curriculum we were using and submit it every fall. And every spring, our kids went to a local public school and were tested.
It was okay, but not perfect. The kids were not used to being in a classroom. It made for a less-than-ideal setting for testing.
In addition, there were signs of it getting much more difficult. The stuff you submitted to the state was essentially an application. You had to be approved. It wasn’t like Kentucky today, where you just elect to inform the state that you’re homeschooling. In South Carolina, then, they could tell you no and sometimes they did just that.
So, we looked for a different way. One of the provisions of the law stated that a child had to be educated in the public school system unless he was enrolled in a private school. People had tried the whole pretending-to-be-a-private-school thing before, with varying amounts of success.
But I was struck by one organization who set out to pave a different road, one I liked. The woman who founded it, Zan Tyler, believed strongly in oversight. She felt that the state’s concern with homeschooling was largely around making sure that somebody was actually educating their kids and that there was accountability. Her idea was to form a “private school” (which would put our kids under the private school laws and not the public school laws) that demanded accountability from the member parents. Her argument was that somebody was going to do oversight, and if we didn’t want the state to do it, we better do it ourselves.
We were among the first families to join SCAIHS.
The reporting/monitoring requirements were much more intrusive and onerous than the state ever thought about. Zan felt strongly (and I agreed wholeheartedly) that if we couldn’t prove accountability, we’d never win. If I remember correctly, I had to send in a monthly report detailing what we’d studied and where we were on our schedule.
And best of all, testing, real, bona fide achievement testing, was available for us and we could administer the tests at home.
We were also required to be members of Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA).
It was great.
It was great right up until the day when I got a phone call from the superintendent of public schools for Greenville County. He explained to me that I was breaking the law and that I couldn’t homeschool through SCAIHS but had to go through the public school, like I always had. I explained that I was not breaking the law at all. We argued politely for a bit and then he told me that he was going to sue us.
I kept very calm (I do not flip out like some other folks we know), but when I got off the phone, I was shaking. I immediately called both Zan Tyler and HSLDA.
Home School Legal Defense immediately assigned an attorney to my case and Zan contacted them as well. She told me later that they were all actually fairly delighted that Greenville County had chosen us to do battle over, because of several things. Nathan was doing very well with homeschooling. We were over-achievers. I was a registered nurse and Dave was college-educated. We had one child, not a dozen. We did not live in a garden shed.
In the end, the HSLDA attorney wrote a letter on our behalf to the superintendent and the man rethought his strategy, and erased us from his hit list. We went right on home-schooling happily until we moved back to North Carolina a couple of years later.
In North Carolina, it was a bit different. Remember the court case regarding private schools that Dave and I rallied around? Remember the legislation that we were able to get passed which changed the law?
Well, in North Carolina, home school students were not public-school kids permitted to remain at home. Instead, they were private school students. Many home schools in NC actually gave their “school” a silly name. You know, Redemption Christian School or Blessed Little Christian Academy. Dumb shit like that.
And because we’d managed to get the law obliterated regarding oversight of private schools, home schools had no oversight either. The same laws applied.
And that is one of the ways it became okay not to educate your kids. You chip away at the laws. You find loopholes, bit by bit by bit.
In a way, it’s the opposite of what is happening in America with abortion rights. To curb abortion rights, opponents don’t try to overturn Roe v Wade. Instead, the right to an abortion exists nationwide. It’s just getting harder and harder and more expensive to exercise that right.
At the same time, it’s gotten easier and easier to home-school, and there are fewer requirements.
This is from HSLDA’s website. It’s annoying as hell because they demand an email address before letting you view anything, so I filled in an obviously bogus one and grabbed the screen shot.
Notice that there are actual requirements in Kentucky. Notice also that they are not enforced to amount to anything. Nobody checks to see if you’re actually doing any of that. Hell, you can have your children removed from your home and nobody will check.
Is this a horrible situation?
Yes, it is. It’s terrible and Kentucky isn’t even listed by HSLDA as one of the most lenient states. In several states, you don’t even have to tell the state anything at all.
And I, in my very misguided youth, helped in a tiny way to make that a reality.
I am so sorry.